Friday, March 31, 2006

Cold Poached Chicken with Ginger Scallion Oil (Page 357)

  • Date: Thursday, March 30, 2006 - 1:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I picked this one because Vigleik and Shihchi took me to Costco last weekend and I got a huge bag of frozen chicken breasts. So I thought I would make this one to use a few of them.This dish wasn't bad -- I just didn't love it. Cold poached chicken is rarely something that I get excited about. This chicken was poached in water, rice wine, and ginger -- the flavors of the sake and ginger were very mild in the chicken breast, but still nice. I wasn't a huge fan of the oil though. It had good flavor, but it was, of course, really oily. So the dish was essentially cold chicken in oil. Now, if I wanted to eat cold chicken in oil, I would probably go with this dish, but it's just not a type of dish that I can get too excited about.

I made this for lunch yesterday. Last night the homeless shelter had a volunteer appreciation party at the aquarium. Jacob came with me and we had a very nice dinner sitting poolside next to the penguin exhibit.

I was out a few nights ago with a friend and we were talking about what we each think is sexy. I offered that I thought men in flip-flops were sexy. He said women with big breasts were sexy, etc... It went on like this for a while. At some point I said that people who know what they want are sexy. He turned to me when I said that and asked, "Do you know what you want?" The question gave me pause. I usually know exactly what I want. I am very decisive and committed to the decisions I make, for better or for worse. Lately though, I feel very indecisive in certain arenas of my life. It's unusual for me, and frankly, a little bit uncomfortable. I have spent much of this break trying to figure out what it is that I want. But as the end of break approaches, I'm not so sure I've really made any progress...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream (Page 852)

  • Date: Tuesday, March 28, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: My Parents
  • Recipe Rating: C+

This is the aforementioned chocolate ice cream for my mother. I know it's difficult to believe that homemade chocolate ice cream could be bad, but I just don't like this one. The chocolate flavor is overwhelmingly intense and the texture is really gummy, so somehow the net result is like eating frozen chocolate frosting. It's just not so appealing. I can see how some people might like it, but it just doesn't do it for me.

I had a really horrific date last night. It wasn't the unfortunate series of events that made it so bad though, it was the fact that I behaved incredibly childishly in response to said events. I wasn't particularly impressed by either of us last night, but between the two of us, I definitely behaved worse.

This morning, laying in my bed, feeling sorry for myself, I called the person least likely to baby me to give me a pep talk. His comments in a nutshell: "Try to have some perspective, get your ass out of bed, and get on with your day." This friend has the charming quality of always telling me exactly what I don't want to hear. He is more a source of tough love than sympathy. Sometimes, like this morning, that's exactly what I need. I did get out of bed, and I went for a good run. Plus, I put on my favorite sweatpants. They are lined with really soft, flannely stuff. I have a theory that it is impossible to have a bad day while wearing these pants. In the end, my day wasn't bad. There aren't many woes that sweatpants, a good long run, and some Janis Joplin can't cure...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet (Page 860)

  • Date: Sunday, March 26, 2006 - 9:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: My Parents
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this recipe out for my dad, who will be here for lunch on Wednesday. It's pretty good. The sherbet has excellent flavor -- I have never made sherbet or ice cream with buttermilk before and it gives it quite a nice tang. The balance of the lemon and sugar is also pretty good, producing a sherbet that has lemon flavor but is not overly sour. I might prefer even more lemon though. The only thing I don't really like about this recipe is that I think the texture is a little icy for a sherbet. The texture almost seems closer to that of a sorbet. Overall though, not bad. I think my dad will like it.

My parents will be here for a few hours on Wednesday, so I am making his and hers frozen treats for them. For my mom: chocolate ice cream. Any of you who have met her know that her love of ice cream is impressive. The woman eats ice cream every single day, and most days more than once. No meal that she eats is complete without her ice cream. My dad usually prefers a slightly lighter dessert, hence the sherbet is for him. He also likes all things lemon. When I was 12 or 13 I used to make him lemon meringue pies. That was one of the few things in my repetoire then, and I made them very frequently! My mom taught me how to make her homemade pie crust, and we made the first few pies together. After that I made them on my own for my dad. He likes his lemon meringue pies really tart, so I would make them that way. Guests in our house would always be a little shocked by the tartness when they would taste the pie. This lemon sherbet is probably not quite as tart as he would prefer, but I think he will still like it. Flipping through The Book just now I realized that there is a recipe for lemon meringue ice cream. I should have made that for him! Oh well, too late. Three kinds of ice cream might be overkill!

I have received one phone call since my resolution earlier this evening to answer my phone, and I answered it! So far so good... I realized while on the phone though one reason that I don't answer my phone. I wanted to talk to the guy who called, and we ended up talking for almost an hour and having a really good conversation. He lives less than a mile away though. It seems so silly to talk to people on the phone who live so nearby. We could have just talked in person!

Balsamic-Roasted Pears with Pepper and Honey (Page 809)

  • Date: Friday, March 24, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Cotton
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Cotton and I picked this one together. Left to my own devices I would probably have given this recipe a C+. Cotton wanted to give it an A- though, so I compromised at B- (yeah, I know, that's a pretty special way of compromising -- Cotton doesn't actually read my blog though, so he'll never know he was cheated...) Anyway, it's not that this dessert was bad or anything, it just wasn't very convincing. It tasted like a bunch of things: roasted pears, black pepper, balsamic vinegar, Manchego cheese, and honey, all thrown together. And I like all those things -- I even like them together -- but there was no attempt to have the flavors meld in any way. If more of the ingredients had actually been cooked together, I think I would have felt better about it. As it was, I felt like I was just eating a roasted pear swimming in vinegar with cheese on the side. That's not really my idea of a good dessert. Cotton liked it though, so it may just be a matter of personal taste. The concept of this dessert is definitely a good one, but I think the recipe just isn't quite right.

My weekend has been nice -- very relaxing. Plus, my awesome parents decided to drive my mom's car to me this week! They were intending to travel from Wisconsin to South Carolina this week anyway -- but they had planned to go by plane! Instead, they left Wisconsin today in what will soon be my car, and are stopping in Ohio for something related to my dad's work. They are arriving here on Wednesday morning. We're going to have lunch and then they are flying to South Carolina Wednesday afternoon. I'm so excited about having a "new" car, and am very grateful that my parents are going to bring it to me!!!

I also got a new phone yesterday to replace the one I broke in half. This one has a camera, which allows me to document all sorts of things.

I have a new goal: to answer my phone when people call me. Ok, let me refine my goal a little: when I don't have some real reason not to answer my phone, I want to learn to answer it. As it is now, a lot of the time I just watch my phone ring, and don't pick it up. It's not that I don't like the people who are calling me. It's not even that I don't want to talk to them. My impulse is just not to answer. Today I was realizing though how some people are really good about always answering their phone or returning calls, or responding to emails promptly, etc... and how I really like them for that. So, I am going to try to be more that way myself. I do ok with emails already, but this phone thing is not going to be so easy...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Duck Breasts with Orange-Ancho Chile Sauce (Page 396)

  • Date: Friday, March 24, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Cotton
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Cotton picked random numbers until we arrived at this recipe (his first random number landed us on an octopus recipe that takes 25 hours, so we had to keep going until we got something reasonable...). This dish was quite good. The sauce had amazing flavor - the combination of the citrus caramel and the ancho chiles was really nice. The meat was slightly overcooked though. We cooked it to the internal temperature reccomended in the recipe for medium rare meat, and then let it rest as indicated. When we sliced it though, we discovered that the meat was medium to medium well, rather than the medium rare we had aimed for. I was going to fault the recipe for this, but really it's my fault. The recipe specified using Muscovy duck breasts of a particular size, and I wasn't careful about finding Muscovy duck, or breasts that were precisely the indicated size. Muscovy duck meat is much different than the typical duck you buy in the grocery store. Plus, my breast was much larger than the recipe indicated. I think these factors combined accounted for the unexpectedly extensive residual cooking while the breast was resting. I can't fault the recipe for that - it was user error. Anyway, even with our slightly overcooked meat, this dish was really good, so properly cooked I think it would be awesome!

Cotton is back from his extended stay in India, and last night we cooked dinner together. I hadn't cooked with him before, but I discovered that he's a really fun person to be in the kitchen with. Plus, he seems like someone who can get excited about food, which, as you might imagine, is a quality I really like in a person. It was a fun evening!

Lately I have had a number of conversations that I think normally would have been difficult, or upsetting, or something. But I don't feel upset by them. I can't help but wonder what that means. Am I becoming numb to the world, or am I just happy enough with my life that these things don't bother me? Last weekend I actually felt genuinely upset for a couple days. On Sunday night I laid in bed and just felt terrible. At the same time, though, I felt so relieved to know that I could feel terrible. It has been such a long time since anyone has affected me enough to really make me feel bad. In a way that's nice, but it also seems a little sad...

Spinach Salad with Gorgonzola Croutons and Bacon Twists (Page 139)

  • Date: Friday, March 24, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Cotton
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Cotton picked this one out. This salad was extremely good. Cotton pointed out that it's a shame we can't grade the croutons separately, because they deserve an A+. The gorgonzola croutons were awesome! Although we ate this salad as a first course to our meal, it is intended as a main course salad, and I think it work quite well that way too. I'm usually not a fan of the dressing on these types of spinach salads, and I was certainly skeptical when I saw that this dressing contained mayonaise. However, the dressing came out both flavorful and light. All in all, an excellent salad, and one that I hope to make again soon!

Spring break starts today and I am so excited! In reality it doesn't make a huge difference -- I will still try to get a lot of work done over break. But not teaching, and not having any classes gives me so much more freedom in my schedule! I could even sleep in if I wanted to! Then again, today I got up at 5:30am, so I guess I am not really taking advanatage of my break yet! Hopefully I will also have time to do some cooking over break... The last week was so busy that I just couldn't find much time to cook. It was a great week though. My advisor was in town and we had a really encouraging talk. Plus, it's always mathematically very helpful to see him, and generate some new ideas with him for directions to go in my research.

I have three non-mathematical goals for my spring break. One, buy a new phone. Yesterday I was talking on my cell phone with Mike and I accidentally broke it in half (I kid you not!). Shockingly, it still works, but it's only a matter of time... I think I am going to get a new one today. Two, organize Food for Thought (more on this a different time). And three, figure out what to do about my car. So my parents have generously offered me the chance of getting my mom's car. It's in Wisconsin though, so I have to figure out if I want to go there and get it, or have someone bring it to me, or what.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oatmeal Cookies (Page 664)

  • Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - 10:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I picked these cookies because I didn't have to go to the grocery store in order to make them! This recipe is not a winner though. The cookies came out much too doughy, and not nearly oatey enough. They have hardly any flavor. Plus, they aren't so cute. The recipe for oatmeal cookies on the Quaker Oats package is much better than this one! You know, most of the stuff I have made in this project has been pretty good, but I haven't been super impressed by the cookies in this book so far. Maybe I just have higher standards for cookies!

Today was a long day (13 hours at the office!), but a good day. My thesis advisor is in town from Japan for 3 days, so we spent much of the day working together (computing Mackey functor Ext groups!). The rest of the day was mainly consumed by my 18.03 students, who have an exam tomorrow.

This has been a good week so far. Last week was so weird, and this weekend I was really crabby. The last few days though I have just been in a great mood. I feel as though I have really been able to appreciate all the things that are wonderful about my life. When I was in college, Emilee and I would sometimes try to have attitude adjustments about things we were unhappy about. For whatever reason I would always stand on a chair when trying to adjust my attitude. I still do that sometimes. It gives you a different perspective on the world, being up so high. That was one of the best skills I learned in college: how to find and attach to a good perspective on a bad situation. I didn't know how to do that when I was younger. I was so crabby this weekend, about such stupid stuff. When I woke up Monday morning, I spent 10 minutes thinking about all the valuable things to come out of the situations that were making me so upset. And ever since, I have felt so much better. It's strange how powerful it can be to just tell yourself that you are going to view your life differently...

Ok, I am exhausted. I am going to crawl in to bed and sleep!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hollandaise Sauce (Page 883)

  • Date: Many times in 2004
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Cambridge School of Culinary Arts
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This is another one that I have made before. The recipe in this book is the same as our recipe for Hollandaise sauce in culinary school, so I have made it many, many times. I gave it an A- because if I were going to make Hollandaise, this is certainly the recipe I would use. However, I can't stand Hollandaise sauce so I never make it! When I was studying before exams at culinary school I would make batches of Hollandaise, and Mayonaise, and Bechamel, taste them, and then just put them down the garbage disposal. I felt bad about it, but not bad enough to actually want to eat them! So, I'm not a huge fan of Hollandaise, but for a Hollandaise sauce this one is pretty good.

I wrote this long, really personal thing to put here, and then erased it.

I don't really know what to say. My weekend has been weird, and not really at all what I had hoped it would be. But at the same time, I have felt comforted by it. This afternoon, over bread pudding and tea at 1369, Mike said "You know, sometimes things turn out the way you hoped they would, and sometimes they just don't." This weekend they didn't, but I feel ok about that. I think it's important to have days that are hard. It's important to remember once in a while that you can't always have everything that you want.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble (Page 812)

  • Date: Friday, March 17, 2006 - 5:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex's Partygoers: Alex, Jon, Natasha, Mary Beth, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Every so often Alex has wine-tasting dinners at his place, and I traditionally provide dessert. I picked this one for Alex's dinner last night because it seemed like it would both be easy and tasty. After making Bridget's cake, I wasn't ready for another fussy dessert quite yet! This was a good recipe. It didn't come out particularly beautiful, but it did taste quite good. The recipe gives a range for the amount of sugar to add -- I went with the middle of the range, but were I to do it again, I would put in less. Rhubarb is always best if you let the tartness of it come through. Also, I made the mistake of covering it while it was still warm in order to transport it from my place to Alex's. The net effect of this was that the crisp topping got much less crispy. I recrisped it a bit at Alex's, but I think it would have been better had I not covered it in the first place. Overall though, people seemed to really like this dessert. If you're looking for something quick and relatively foolproof, this recipe is not bad at all!

Well, the one person I really wanted to hear from yesterday never called (of course -- doesn't it always work out that way! :) ), but I did get a chance to spend some time with a couple people I hadn't really seen in a while. Much to my surprise, Rob appeared in the math department yesterday afternoon. I hadn't seen him since his wedding in July. He has a job at Columbia so he and his wife moved to New York. It was really great to catch up with him briefly. I miss having Rob around and watching the occasional Stanford football game with him! Then last night, when I went to Alex's party, Jon was there. I saw Jon at Bridget's celebration Thursday but before that I hadn't seen him in months. Jon and I met at math camp when we were undergrads! I just say that because it drives him crazy -- we actually met at an extended conference in Park City, Utah. We both ended up at MIT for grad school, although he's in the computer science department, hence I hardly see him. Anyway, last night we got a chance to really catch up. When I drove him home after the party he gave me an amazing pep talk - which aside from really embarassing me was quite sweet.

My other pep talk yesterday came in the form of a complete stranger working at a coffee shop paying me some very unusual compliments. After our chat I left, drink in hand, and laughed to myself all the way through Central Square.

It's about 8:30am on Saturday morning and the whole world seems so quiet. I love this time of day on the weekends...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Golden Cake with Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting (Page 725)

  • Date: Thursday, March 16, 2006 - 5:15pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA (MIT!)
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Bridget, Mike, Francesca, Vigleik, Jon, Michael B., Alex, Mark, Prof. Stanley, Prof. Postnikov, Prof. Gessel, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this cake for Bridget's thesis defense because it sounded good and seemed like it would be generally appealing to a lot of people. I modified the recipe in several ways. One, instead of putting frosting between all four layers, I did one layer of frosting, and filled the other two with raspberry filling, which I think was a good adjustment. I also covered the cake with a chocolate band after frosting it. I have been wanting to try this technique for a while, so I figured I would give it a shot. It didn't come out perfect, but I was fairly happy with it. Overall the cake wasn't bad. The cake itself was a little dense for my taste, and maybe just slightly too dry. It's a matter of personal taste, but I generally prefer the texture of a chiffon-style cake to a butter cake like this one. However, the buttery flavor of this cake was very nice.

This has been a weird, weird week. This morning, before anyone else was in the office, Josh and I were sitting around, comparing how strange our respective weeks have been. I think that his week has been even more odd than mine, but I gave him a run for his money. Maybe I would have actually won if I had really been able to explain everything that has happened this week! My desire to maintain some privacy prevents me from doing this though. We decided there must just be something in the air. Last night when I went to bed I finally felt like things had settled down a little. Then I woke up to an email this morning from someone that I wasn't expecting to see for quite a while, saying that he is coming to town tomorrow. I am excited about the idea of seeing him, and hoping that he wants to see me too. I guess I can only wait and see...

Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting (Page 726)

  • Date: Thursday, March 16, 2006 - 5:15pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA (MIT!)
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Bridget, Mike, Francesca, Jon, Michael B., Mark, Alex, Vigleik, Prof. Stanley, Prof. Postnikov, Prof. Gessel, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A

I chose this frosting because it went with the cake recipe that I made for Bridget's thesis defense today. I had actually made this frosting before, but never the cake that it went with, so I remade it for the project. I really love this frosting. It is very chocolately, and not too sweet. The sour cream gives it a great tang. I reccomend using good chocolate -- I used Callebaut and the chocolate flavor was fantastic. This frosting also has the great property that it starts very easy to spread and then firms up as it cools. Thus, it is both extremely easy to crumb coat with and extremely easy to pipe, which is a rare quality in a frosting. You do have to work quickly though, as once it has really thickened it is difficult to do anything with it. Overall, a wonderful frosting that is simple to make, good to work with, and very tasty.

Bridget successfully defended her doctoral thesis this afternoon! Congratulations Bridget! After her presentation we had cake and champagne, and then a bunch of us went out for dinner. When we were at dinner I couldn't help but think that it felt like not so long ago that we were all out for dinner celebrating Bridget passing her qualifying exams. In reality, that was almost 3 years ago. Grad school is really flying by. I guess it's not surprising that when you spend every day doing something that you love doing, surrounded by people that are great friends, time will seem as though it is passing quickly. I feel really lucky to have a job that I love and an office that I look forward to going to each day. That is such a huge blessing.

I was also reminded today that next year Bridget won't be here. Mike will be in Virginia. Vigleik will be in Chicago. It will be so different without the three of them around. Bridget is my resource for all things girly. She's the perfect person to watch a chick-flick with. She's great to talk with in the middle of the afternoon, sitting in my office with our feet up on the desks. Mike is my gym buddy, my source of all advice, and the first person I go to with a dilema. Mike will patiently listen to me rehash the same scenario over and over. Mike never gets sick of eating at Anna's with me. Vigleik is my rock. Possibly the most stable, even-tempered person I have ever known, Vigleik cheers me up when I feel bad, and calms me down when I am too excited to concentrate. Vigleik sits next to me in class every day. He eats lunch with me every afternoon. It's possible that I spend more time with him than with anyone else in my life. It makes me sad to think that next year they will be gone. The department will feel so different without them. But I am so lucky to have shared four great years with them...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Persian-Style Chicken with Walnut, Onion, and Pomegranate Sauce (Page 372)

  • Date: August, 2005
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian, Chris, Eric, and Rachel
  • Recipe Rating: C+

This is another one that I made long ago, but am just documenting now. Emilee and I made this in California last summer when I was visiting. It sounded really good, but wasn't so great. It wasn't nearly as bad as it looked though! I don't feel even slightly bad about the fact that there is no picutre of this one. This dish was terrifyingly ugly! Pomegranate apparently wasn't in season when we made it, so we had to use pomegranate juice instead, which seemed to work fine. The flavor of the dish was not bad, but somehow the appearance and texture made it not so appealing to eat.

Today was hard. I found out today that I am going to have to say goodbye to Lipschitz, my car. Partly it's upsetting because getting a different car will be expensive. I have a number of obligations that require driving though, so not replacing it isn't really a viable option. Plus, I love to drive so much -- I can't imagine not having a car. More than that though, I'm upset because Lipschitz has been with me so long -- that car is really special to me. I drove to Boston from California in that car. I drove to Emilee's wedding in that car. I drove to visit Melanie in North Dakota, and Greg in DC. I drove it down the California coast many times. It has had whitewater kayaks and surfboards and Christmas trees strapped to its top. For one week it had everything I owned inside of it. I have ridden in that car with boyfriends, and close friends, and family. I will miss all of those things. Brian has always referred to Lipschitz as "piece-of-shit." I will even miss that. But sometimes letting go is the only option. That car and I have had almost 124,000 miles together. And now, the cost of repairing it enough to make it safe to drive is many times the value of the car. I know it's time to let go, but I'm still so sad. On the bus home from school today I started to cry. Maybe it is silly to be so upset, but that car has been with me through so much... It's like losing a friend that has always been faithful to me.

I'm sure some of you reading this have good (and bad!) memories in that car too... (Em: our breakdown in the middle of the night in that terrifying neighborhood of San Francisco, or driving up those amazing hills to see the church with the labyrinth?!?!).

I'm writing this from my apartment, where I am baking a cake for Bridget's thesis defense tomorrow. Warm cake smells are drifting from the kitchen to my bedroom, and consoling me in my misery.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Beef Roasted in a Salt Crust (Page 413)

  • Date: Sunday, March 12, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Marco, Josh, Vero, Alex, and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this for last night's dinner because it is a big recipe so I wanted to make it when I was having a few people over. It came out really nicely. I have roasted fish in salt before, but never a big beef roast, so it was a new experience for me. This recipe is incredibly simple, and the meat came out beautiful and tasty. I ended up using a boneless standing rib roast rather than one with the ribs in, as that was all they had at the butchers, but it still came out great! It would be a perfect dish for a special occasion.

For almost a year now, a small group of people have been getting together periodically for potluck dinners at my place. Over the summer these dinners happened weekly on Tuesdays, and became somehow forever known as Tuesday Dinners. Now that term is in session at MIT, dinners have not been so frequent, or consistent. But occasionally, like last night, we manage to get some of us together for such a potluck. I make a big vegetarian pasta dish (and often some other things) and everyone brings something with them. There ends up always being tons of good food. The crowd changes a bit from dinner to dinner, and over time we have added some new faces, and some people have moved away. We always have a good time though! I really love to eat with friends, and I always look forward to occasions that bring up all together over dinner.

I've included a picture of the roast before I removed the salt. When some people arrived last night the salt crust was still on and they couldn't figure out what it was. My favorite guess came from Marco: "Is it a cake?" Even once it was established that the white stuff was salt (and not frosting, or ice, and some people thought) people had a hard time figuring out what might be inside. It was quite entertaining.

Pasta with Asparagus Lemon Sauce (Page 205)

  • Date: Sunday, March 12, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Marco, Josh, Vero, Jacob, Alex, and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this because I needed a vegetarian pasta dish for last night's potluck dinner, and this fit the bill. It didn't sound particularly good to me but I actually ended up liking it quite a lot. It is very simple: just penne and asparagus tips in a pureed asparagus sauce with lemon and cheese. The asparagus flavor was nice though, and not as overpowering as I might have imagined it would be. The sauce thickened up nicely when the cheese was added, giving it an almost creamy texture. Overall a simple, tasty pasta dish!

I bought a little filing cabinet at Staples on Saturday. At dinner last night, I somehow convinced everyone to assemble it for me! It was really great. Mike was the contractor for this project, and he delegated tasks to the other 8 or so people in the room. A few people seemed not so excited about this project (Ana: "You call this a party?"), but many people seemed almost like they were having fun! It went really fast though. They were able to do in well under an hour what would have taken me several hours for sure. My contribution: I took dessert orders and served up dessert for the people doing the real work! The top picture is Mike, Josh, and Marco, busily working. The bottom one is the assembled filing cabinet, with everyone (except Marco) who helped assemble it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Roasted French Fries (Page 568)

  • Date: Saturday, March 11, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this recipe last night because I have potatoes left over from Talbot that I need to use before they go bad. These fries were good, but inconsistent. To be fair, this is likely due to user error. Some of my fries burned, some didn't cook enough. Some stuck to the pan and tore apart, others came off easily. Probably most of this inconsistency in cooking stemmed from my inconsistency in cutting the potatoes into equal sized matchsticks. In any event, the fries that weren't burnt or undercooked tasted really good! Likely if I took more care in making this recipe it would be great!

So last night I went to a party. I left home around 9pm with the intention of only staying at the party a couple of hours. I was exhausted and wanted to get some rest. Things didn't quite work out that way though. I ended up back home around 3pm, and when I crawled in to bed, I just stared at the ceiling for a moment and thought, "huh." This party was unusual in so many respects, and I couldn't possibly try to explain the evening here. It was the kind of night I love though: really eye-opening in a way, and very different from every other night. It was the kind of night after which I am sure at least half a dozen people (myself included) woke up feeling slightly embarassed this morning. It was a memorable evening. A lot of these same people are coming over to my place for dinner tonight. I am wondering if the events of last night will be a major topic of conversation, or totally ignored. We shall see...

I went to the homeless shelter this morning, after not enough sleep. I helped Carol with the dishes most of the time. It's not my favorite job in general, but when I am exhuasted it's perfect. It's fast paced, but repetitive, and doesn't really require interaction with other people. It's a good task for someone who's not totally awake. Plus, no one on my shift besides Carol really likes to do the dishes, so she's always pleased when someone helps voluntarily.

Ok, I should start thinking about making dinner for my guests this evening...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Molasses Sponge Candy (Page 698)

  • Date: Saturday, March 11, 2006 - 3pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: C-
A friend is having a small party tonight, so I made this candy with the intention of bringing it to his get-together. It's not so good though, so I think I won't be leaving the house with it. It's a shame really because it was a lot of fun to make. I love making candy -- I find it so fascinating how the properties of sugar change so drastically just from boiling. Plus, the effect of adding the baking soda to the boiling molasses and sugar was incredibly cool. It was very remniscent of a science experiment: you have this boiling liquid, you add a tiny amount of powder, and you get this huge growing column of stuff. It was really beautiful to watch. But, the end result just doesn't taste very good...

Yesterday was Marco's birthday (Happy Birthday Marco!) so after a wonderfully long workout at the gym, Mike and I went over to Marco's place to hang out last night. I stayed up much later than usual and ate an obscene number of chocolate covered dried cherries. This morning I woke up feeling the sugar hangover from those cherries!

There's a new butcher shop in Cambridge called Savenor's Market, and I went there today for the first time. The butcher guys were extremely nice. I needed a standing rib roast for dinner tomorrow night, and the only ones they had at the moment were boneless. They felt so bad about not having exactly what I wanted that they gave me the boneless one for the same per pound price as the one with bones! Not a bad deal at all. Well I shouldn't say that really -- it was the most expensive piece of meat I have ever purchased in my life -- by a long shot! Somehow it was also way more meat than I intended to buy... but that's a different story... I think I will be eating slices of rib roast all week! One of the butchers asked me if I was trying to impress my husband with my rib roast. That made me laugh. I told him I didn't have one to impress, and that the rib roast was just for friends. He seemed skeptical.

Before my butcher shop adventure this morning I finally got the pedicure I have been trying to find time for all month! It was so wonderful!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cream Cheese Ice Cream (Page 855)

  • Date: Thursday, March 9, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Marco, Josh, Vero, Jacob, Alex, and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: A

I picked this recipe because I am having a few people over for a potluck dinner on Sunday, and I thought this ice cream could accompany whatever people bring for dessert. Just from reading the recipe I wasn't too excited about it, but actually this ice cream is fantastic. I really, really like it! The cream cheese adds an amazing and unique tang, which is accentuated by the addition of lemon juice. The ice cream came out rich, and creamy, and wonderful. It looks a little melty in the picture, but that's because I took the photo right after I took it out of the ice cream maker and before I put it in to the freezer to harden.

Tonight a bunch of us went out for a prospective dinner. When prospective students who have been admitted to the math graduate program at MIT come to visit, we get together a bunch of graduate students and go out to dinner. Tonight we had two prospectives with us: one from Harvard and one from The University of Maryland. These dinners are always fun -- plus the department pays for it! We spent most of our meal this evening screaming about politics. It always strikes me as amusing how riled we all can get even when everyone at the table is essentially on the same side of the argument. Hopefully we didn't scare off the prospectives!

Yesterday I finally made some time to go to the gym. I hadn't been in about 2 and a half weeks, which is probably the longest I've gone without working out in more than a year. When I don't workout for a while I start to feel really sluggish and generally sort of bad. Plus, running really improves my mood. I had a fantastic workout yesterday, and I felt so good when I woke up this morning! I'm telling you all this so that you can keep me accountable: I really want to get back in to my every other day workout routine. Now that I am done traveling for a while, I think I should have a little more time. I love to run, but sometime my running suffers when work gets a little crazy. I am going to really make an effort to make some time though. I am already looking forward to my run tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Clarified Butter (Page 935)

  • Date: Many times in the past
  • Location: Cambridge, Somerville, etc...
  • Kitchen: Culinary school, home, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I didn't actually do this one today. This is another recipe that I have made many times before but which I wanted to add to the blog for completeness. What can you really say about a recipe for clarified butter? All clarified butter is pretty much the same. You simply melt it and separate out the milk solids to increase the smoke point of the butter. It's great -- even fattier than regular butter! Plus, is doesn't burn so easily!

I was planning on cooking tonight, but now I am a little too shell-shocked and upset to really think about cooking or food. I was looking forward to this evening. Today I gave my 7th talk in the past 6 weeks, and I was excited about the prospect of being done with all of them. The evening hasn't turned out exactly as I expected though.

I gave a talk today at MIT. It was in Babytop, which is essentially a seminar for the topology graduate students and post docs. In other words, I was speaking in front of a group of people who I consider to be friends. I was looking forward to it -- I have never really given a talk about my own research at MIT and I thought it would be fun. I was wrong. After my talk, I sat in my office and just stared at the water stains on the wall for 30 minutes, feeling completely disheartened and trying not to cry. While giving my talk I was interupted at least once every five minutes, not by math questions, but just by people joking around, or laughing, or having their own conversations. The group is really rowdy in general, and I have certainly been given a hard time before while giving talks, but nothing like this. More than anything I just felt like no one in the room was interested in what I had to say. They were all too busy joking around with one another. It's fine with me if they aren't interested in what I spend my time doing, but at least, out of respect, they could try to be a little polite. It actually took a tremendous amount of willpower for me not to just leave the room in the middle of my talk. I have given this same talk at multiple other institutions, where the audiences were supportive, and kind, and interested. This afternoon I felt like a substitute teacher, trying to teach second graders who had eaten too much candy. Today, for the first time, I actually didn't like, and didn't want to be a part of the MIT topology group.

I hope that I have never made a speaker feel the way they all made me feel today...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Spice Sugar Cookies (Page 669)

  • Date: Monday, March 6, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B

Andre picked the page number for these cookies when we were driving back from Talbot on Saturday. I make cookies for Babytop each week (one of the graduate student topology seminars at MIT) and these are the cookies for tomorrow. They aren't great, but they aren't bad either. I like the sugar on the exterior, and the spicy flavor of the cloves really comes through clearly. I had originally thought that they were going to be a bit too crunchy for me (I generally prefer soft cookies!) but after sitting for a bit they became pretty soft. They are a little dry, but then again I did eat two of them, after eating dessert at a restaurant, so they aren't too bad!

Today we had our first Monday topology seminar of the term, and hence our first topology dinner. We went to The Elephant Walk, which was pretty good. There were 13 of us - a bigger crowd than usual. I was sitting across from Veronique, which is always an adventure! She, like Mike, likes to meddle in my love life. The problem with people attempting to live vicariously through me is that my love life really isn't that interesting. It's not that I don't like to date, but I am just rarely interested enough in anyone to pursue it. Tonight Veronique decided she was going to start a mission to set me up with a certain tall, blond, Danish mathematician who lives 3000 miles away. I tried to tell her that said mathematician, although admittedly desirable, seems not the least bit interested in me. She ignored this minor detail and continued to plot ways of getting me to California, or him to Boston. When she tried to recruit Haynes for her cause, I finally did try to stop her. Haynes just smiled though, and commented that Veronique makes a good replacement for Mike when he's away. I suspect that Vero is slightly more dangerous than Mike though: Mike usually forgets about his plans before he executes them. Somehow I think Veronique is less forgetful...

I am speaking in Babytop tomorrow so I should go think about my talk now.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fruit Crumble (Page 815)

  • Friday, March 3, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: North Conway, NH
  • Kitchen: The "Talbot" House Kitchen
  • Dining Companions: Andre, Vigleik, Mike, Vero, John, Jacob, Chris and 15 other Mathematicians
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this one for dessert on our last night of the Talbot workshop. I made it with a combination of peaches and nectarines. It was very good! I had to cook it about twice as long as indicated in the recipe, although this was probably because I was using deep baking dishes rather than pie plates. The flavor and texture of the crumble topping was extremely good. Overall, a very simple, but tasty dessert. It was perfect served warm with vanilla ice cream.

I am back in Boston now. It's nice to be home. I had a very low key day today: I went to the homeless shelter, graded my students' first differential equations exam, took a long nap, and went to Koreana with Chris and Marco. Now I am, theoretically, unpacking. In reality I am just enjoying some time alone. Living in a house for a week with 22 other mathematicians is fun, but it certainly doesn't allow for too much solitude. By the last day I had reached my limit of being constantly surrounded by other people. I dismissed my kitchen crew for the day, ordered pizza for dinner, and baked dessert alone in the kitchen while most people were either skiing or sleeping. It was a nice break. Today though, I have really had some time alone, which has been so therapeutic.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Parmesan Balsamic Vinaigrette (Page 172)

  • Date: Thursday, March 2, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: North Conway, NH
  • Kitchen: The "Talbot" House Kitchen
  • Fellow Chefs: Stacy, Joachim
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Mike, Vigleik, John, Vero, Andre, Jacob, and 15 other Mathematicians!
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I held a "vote" (more like a very loud debate) to pick the salad dressing. The result of this argument was the Sherry-Walnut Oil Vinaigrette. But, much to my dismay, the lovely North Conway grocery store didn't have walnut oil. So, we had to settle for our second choice: this one. It was very good though. I liked the combination of the balsamic vinegar, parmesan, and basil quite a lot. I dressed a big chicken, walnut, and parmesan green salad with it and it was quite good.

For dinner last night we had lasagna, potato-leek soup, salad, and carmelized onion and brie crostini with bananas foster for dessert. Tonight I am ordering pizza! Cooking five nights in a row for 23 people was enough for me -- I need a break!

Here's a picture of the true Talbot experience: Vigleik drinking a beer.

Last night was a weird night. First, in the process of climbing over a sofa I did something amazingly horrible to my neck. It took a long, long time and some drugs for the spasms to stop. Mike, Vigleik, Vero, and Chris took good care of me though. Just as I was starting to feel ok, a strange car pulled up in the driveway and a near-hysterical woman told us to call 911. A small ways up the street another car had driven in to an electrical pole and the car was engulfed in flames. A bunch of people here went out to the scene to try to help. Fortunately, it appeared that everyone had gotten out of the car before the fire overtook it.

Today is the last full day of Talbot, so everyone is starting to think about packing up and returning home. It was such a fun and productive week, but I am still looking forward to being back in Boston without any serious traveling for a while.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Smoky Black Beans (Page 267)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: North Conway, NH
  • Kitchen: The "Talbot" House Kitchen
  • Sous Chefs: Owen, Tibor, Jeffrey
  • "Kitchen Bitch": John
  • Dining Companions: Jacob, Mike, Vero, Vigleik, Chris, Andre, and 16 other Mathematicians!
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked these beans to go with our Mexican food feast last night. They were really excellent! I got a few skeptical looks from some members of my cooking team when I added the orange juice to the pot of beans, but I think they all came around about the OJ when they tasted them! This recipe is extremely quick, since it starts with canned black beans, but it still has a great hearty, rich flavor. The smokiness contributed by the chipotle chiles is wonderful! We used an immersion blender rather than a potato masher to partially puree our beans, and that worked perfectly.

For dinner we had: Build your own tacos with ground beef, shredded garlic-lime chicken, black beans, and all the fixings, plus tortilla soup and Mexican rice, with baked apples for dessert. We really made a lot of food, so I think we will be having a taco bar for lunch today too!

Here's a picture of some of the guys in the Talbot "seminar room."

A month or so ago I was having dinner with a woman who is a PhD student in experimental physics. We were talking about the curiosities of being women in male-dominated fields. She said that the key to success as a woman in such an environment is to remember, "They are your colleagues. They are not your friends." I was so shocked when she said that, and for weeks her words echoed through my head. Last night around midnight I was standing in the bathroom with Mike, John, and Jacob, all of us in either our pajamas or our swimsuits, brushing our teeth. I looked around and all I could think was, "Yes, they are my friends. And that's a good thing." It's nice to be here, surrounded by friends, learning together and having a good time!

It's early now and not so many people are awake. Mike is still sleeping. I predict he will be pissy at me when he wakes up -- in the middle of the night I (accidentally) elbowed him in the head! Whoops!